Yanks chip away to split with Tribe
Four-run sixth ends hitless spell; Mussina wins second straight
CLEVELAND -- The Yankees have been away from home so often this month, Mike Mussina seemed legitimately surprised when he realized his assumptions were incorrect: another hotel room was not, in fact, waiting at the end of the charter flight.
The right-hander will actually have to hunt for his house keys when the Yankees arrive in New York, and they'll do so with better spirits. The club completed its marathon road swing with a 5-2 victory over the Indians on Monday, earning a split of a four-game series.
Fueled by a four-run sixth inning in which they knocked out Indians starter Aaron Laffey mostly on an assortment of infield hits, the Yankees broke even at 10-10 as they finished playing 18 of 20 games away from Yankee Stadium, the most April road games played by any team in Major League history.
"When you're traveling and keeping tough hours, it's tough to get into a routine," Mussina said. "It's tough to get the right amount of sleep. It's hard. We've done OK going .500 over those three weeks. Hopefully, we can get home and relax a little bit and play baseball the way we want to."
The Yankees were no-hit by Laffey for five innings, limited to three baserunners and two hit batsmen, but they came alive late, taking Mussina off the hook after he left trailing, 2-0.
Melky Cabrera broke up Laffey's bid with an infield single to open the four-run sixth inning, and the left-hander -- called up from Triple-A Buffalo before Monday's game -- allowed two more hits to load the bases before nicking Alex Rodriguez with a pitch, forcing in a run. Rodriguez would later leave the game with a recurrence of the strain of his right quadriceps.
Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui followed with run-scoring groundouts, both to first base, giving the Yankees the lead and chasing Laffey. Morgan Ensberg brought home New York's fourth run with a swinging-bunt infield single that reliever Jensen Lewis couldn't pick up.
The Yankees hit just one ball out of the infield in the inning, Bobby Abreu's single to left. Matsui added an RBI double off Lewis in the eighth to complete the scoring, but of New York's five hits, three were of the infield variety.
"It wasn't pretty, but we've hit our share of hard balls that have been caught, so I'll take it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Mussina limited the Indians to two runs over five innings, winning his second consecutive start and tying Carl Hubbell on the all-time wins list with 253.
Cleveland was blanked for the first four frames before Mussina was touched twice in the fifth inning, surrendering four consecutive singles -- including a run-scoring hit to Jason Michaels -- and a sacrifice fly to Travis Hafner.
In his first start after Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner critiqued his pitching style in an interview, suggesting he pitch more like Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer, Mussina hurled seven innings of two-run ball at Chicago on April 23, breezing through a 101-pitch outing.
He said that the Indians presented more of a challenge, making him work harder just to get through five innings at Progressive Field, but Mussina was most satisfied with his damage control in the fifth.
With the bases loaded, nobody out and a run already in, the inning could have spun seriously out of control, but Mussina got Jamey Carroll to pop out preceding Hafner's sacrifice fly, then worked past a walk to Victor Martinez by inducing Jhonny Peralta to line out.
"There weren't any easy outs tonight," Mussina said. "It seemed like everyone was working counts, and I wasn't quite as sharp. I made pitches when I really needed to."
So did the Yankees' bullpen, which threw a rapid-fire succession of Jonathan Albaladejo, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera to stifle Cleveland for one inning apiece. The Indians did not have a runner after Michaels' two-out single off Albaladejo in the sixth.
"Those guys just came in and pumped strikes in there and got easy ground balls and fly balls," Mussina said. "We can't win the ballgame without those guys. Today was as much theirs as mine."
Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning around a strikeout for his eighth save, but the clubhouse buzz was more about a mysterious new pitch that Farnsworth has developed, with reporters tipped off by an offhand comment from Mussina.
Farnsworth said that he is now throwing a cutter to keep hitters off balance, a variation of the slider he once utilized as a starting pitching prospect. He dusted the pitch off after being urged by injured right-hander Brian Bruney, who was working with Farnsworth before sustaining a right foot injury that may shelve him for the season.
"It was my old slider that I had when I started my first few years," Farnsworth said. "I was real inconsistent with it. It spun more than anything."
The victory allows the Yankees to head home one game above .500 at 14-13, trailing in the American League East by one game. Given their hectic travel schedule, which included yielding Yankee Stadium to Pope Benedict XVI for a weekend, the Yankees will take their current standing for what it is.
"We definitely wanted to come through this stretch with our heads over .500," Rodriguez said. "We've had a tough schedule. The team has responded well, and we've had contributions from everybody. We've got our best baseball ahead of us."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.